How to avoid abusive cannabis use amongst the young Europeans (aged 15-18)?

According to the European Drug Report 2013 by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, cannabis use in Europe remains high by historical standards, with a large and relatively robust market existing for this substance, despite some evidence of decreasing trends, especially in countries with a long and established history of high prevalence. Given its status as the most commonly used illicit drug, cannabis is an important issue for prevention work with young people.

The implementation of the CAPPYC program aims to learn about young people’s opinions and attitudes regarding cannabis use, and invite them to participate in an educational prevention program which aims to change attitudes favourable towards cannabis use.

In terms of the overall European trend, school students’ cannabis use increased between 1995 and 2003, dropped slightly in 2007 and since then has remained stable. During this period, a noticeable trend has been a reduction in cannabis use in many of the countries that reported high levels of prevalence in early surveys. Over the same period, levels of cannabis use among school students increased in many of the countries in central and eastern Europe, showing a degree of convergence across Europe as a whole.

An estimated 15.4 million young Europeans (15–34) (11.7% of this age group) used cannabis in the last year, with 9.2 million of these aged 15–24 (14.9%). Cannabis use is generally higher among males. Longer-term trends among young adults are broadly in line with those for students, with gradual increases in use among some lower-prevalence countries, alongside decreases among higher-prevalence countries.

There are over 3 million daily cannabis users and the demand for treatment is rising. A significant minority of cannabis users consume the substance intensively. Daily or almost daily cannabis use is defined as use on 20 or more days in the month preceding the survey. Data from 22 countries, suggest that around 1% of adults, at least three million, report using the drug in this way. Over two-thirds of these are aged between 15 and 34 years, and in this age group, over three-quarters are male, all according to the European Drug Report 2013 (OEDT – European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction).

Regarding perceived adverse health effects of cannabis, experts are aware that the drug is not as negatively viewed as cocaine or heroin amongst young people. Therefore, the report reminds us of its harmful effects, such as nausea, impaired coordination and performance, anxiety and symptoms of psychosis. However, such effects can get worse over the long-term and cause respiratory or mental health problems.

The study’s main objective is the reduction of expectations and positive attitudes towards cannabis use in young consumers at risk situations, which can lead to a demand reduction for that substance by the implementation (in Portugal, Romania, Spain and Italy) of the selective prevention program CAPPYC (Cannabis Abuse Prevention Program for Young Consumers).

[su_heading size=”20″]Regulation of cannabis in Italy[/su_heading]

The law regarding the use and consumption of marijuana in Italy was first softened by a referendum in 1993, but was then amended by the polemic law n. 49/2006, commonly called Fini-Giovanardi, that toughened the restrictions according to trafficking, production or use, and most importantly, joined together the concepts of soft and hard drugs.

Now, a new law has been published on 20 of May of 2014, taking effect on the 21 of May, changing the system of only two tables (one with all kind of drugs, from cannabis to heroin, and another containing medicinal drugs), to a new system that establishes five tables, separating again cannabis from hard drugs like heroin or cocaine.

In this wave of modernization, the Sicilian Region has been the last of eight regions to legalize marihuana for a medical therapeutical use. Joining the list with Abruzzo, Liguria, Lombardy, Piedmont, Puglia, Tuscany and Veneto, and allowing the prescription of THC, even if only in cases in which “other available drugs have proven ineffective or inadequate for the patient.”

[su_heading size=”20″]Use of cannabis in Italy[/su_heading]

In the last ten years, Italy has experienced a decrease in the use of cannabis, even if it reached a peak in 2008, it fell again afterwards. We can clearly see it comparing the situation in 2008, 2010 and 2012 with the smoking habits of the population with an age between 15 and 64 years old:

cappyc grafico

[su_heading size=”20″]Use of cannabis by youth in Italy[/su_heading]

Statistics show that although the use of cannabis among general population is decreasing, it is a reality among youth and even increasing, considering that the use in the last 12 months has been growing from 18,5% in 2010 to 21,56% in 2013.

Moreover, cannabis prevalence consumption is directly correlated to the age of the subject, increasing year by year, starting very early in their life and even rising from the 7,8% in the 15 years age range to a 33,9% when they are 19 years old. To be noticed as well is the gender difference in consumption, as female, this step goes from 4,8% to 20%, being a noticeable difference between them. In both sexes, the most common behavior is the occasional use of cannabis, which means that it is consumed from 1 to 5 times per year. 58% of girls do this, and the 50% of boys, while the 30% of boys affirm to smoke 20 or more times during a year with the 18% of girls doing the same.

Risk perception

Reporting about risk perception, we can see how Regions and Autonomous Provinces in Italy divide the population in different target groups, selective prevention initiatives depending on personal conditions or the situation of their families.

The total number of selective and targeted prevention initiatives which were either on-going or completed by the Regions and Autonomous Provinces are 242 in 2010, which are over twice the number of the previous year, with 107 in 2009. The most common target groups are “Immigrants” and “Young party-goers”, and, then, “Other at-risk subgroups”, “Students with social and/or academic marginalisation problems”, “Young people residing in socially disadvantaged areas” and “Early school leavers”.

While by targeting family groups, two-thirds of the projects fall under two specific subcategories, which are “Socially disadvantaged parents” and “Families with substance abuse problems”, being the rest “Families with problems of conflict or abandonment by members”, “Socially disadvantaged parents”, “Families with judicial problems” and other.

Also, the way these plans are implemented may vary and are linked to the use of mass media and different resources to get to the audience, like leaflets, internet, magazines, newspapers, TV, posters.

Prevention campaigns are as well distributed by matter, like cannabis, opiates, synthetic drugs, cocaine, tobacco, alcohol.


  • SPS Italia (Student Population Survey) of the Dipartimento Politiche Antidroga of 2010
  • Prevalence of daily cannabis use in the European Union and Norway, European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA). Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union, 2012
  • SPS Italia (Student Population Survey) of the Dipartimento Politiche Antidroga of 2013
  • Processing of data from EMCDDA questionnaire-based survey of Regions
  • 2011 National Report (2010 data) to the EMCDDA by the Reitox Italian Focal Point. Italy, 2011.
  • European Drug Report 2014: Trends and developments, European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union, 2014
  • Regarding the consumption of cannabis by youth people, we have the SPS Italia (Student Population Survey) of the Dipartimento Politiche Antidroga of 2011 and 2013(3) that involved students from 15 to 19 years old, where we can see that, even in the general population the use of cannabis is decreasing, it is fluctuating in the young people and even growing:

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